Qing Ming or the Tomb Sweeping Day is the time for Chinese people to visit tombs, present offerings and burn the spirit money for the deceased. It typically falls on April 4, 5 or 6 every year. Last Friday, I was surprised to see that street stalls were selling the spirit money that looked like the U.S. dollars.
The traditional Chinese belief holds that when people die, they go to the underworld and continue to live on. The underworld does have a currency in circulation, but it is not designed or printed by the residents of the underworld. It is people who are alive that make the spirit money and burn it on memorial occasions. The idea is that the spirit money, after being burnt, will be received by the people in the underworld for them to spend. Sometimes, paper-made miniature cars, houses or electronics are also burnt for the people who are six feet under.
Interestingly, to avoid the remittance being robbed or stolen, a small amount of spirit money is burnt first for the roaming spirits of the strangers. After taking care of the homeless ghosts, the living people then burn the larger sums for the deceased in their family.
Generally, the spirit money is designed to resemble the real banknotes. However, the head on the spirit money is changed into the Jade Emperor, the god who governs the heaven, the earth and the underworld. Also, the face value of the spirit money is exponentially higher than that of the real banknotes, ranging from millions to billions per note. For example, this one has a face value of one billion!
Why is the spirit money copying the design of the U.S. dollars? Perhaps citizens from the Chinese underworld are now making trips to the American underworld, I guess?